Physician advocates: 'We can only judge CHS by its actions, not its words'

Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems put the future of Lutheran Health Network in Fort Wayne, Ind., in doubt by failing to make necessary investments to improve the quality of care at LHN's hospitals, a group of physician advocates wrote in a recent op-ed in The Journal Gazette.

CHS became the second largest for-profit hospital operator in the U.S. by buying up smaller community hospitals. However, this strategy has left CHS "chasing its tail to pay down debt," wrote William Cast, MD, Matthew Sprunger, MD and J. Philip Tyndall, MD. The three physicians are founders of Northeast Indiana Citizens for Healthcare Excellence, a group focused on holding CHS accountable.  

The physicians say LHN's hospitals are in dire need of upgrades. CHS has promised to invest $500 million in the facilities over the next six years, but the physicians argue that isn't enough. "CHS would need to invest nearly $800 million to correct its missteps and return LHN to form," the physicians wrote. 

The physicians also expressed doubt about whether the promised investment would come to fruition. "We can only judge CHS by its actions, not its words," they wrote. "Be not comforted by promises that are followed by no action — and know that CHS' pain will undoubtedly become our pain, too."

Tensions have flared between physicians in Northeast Indiana and CHS since May, when CHS rejected a buyout offer from a group of LHN physicians. Shortly after CHS rejected the physician group's takeover bid, the hospital operator fired two Lutheran Health Network executives: CEO Brian Bauer and CMO Geoff Randolph, MD. Lutheran Hospital CMO Matthew Sutter, MD, resigned in June.

There was a leadership exodus at LHN in July, as Steven Orlow, MD, the system's CMIO, resigned, Chuck Surack and Tom Kelly stepped down from the advisory boards of LHN and Lutheran Hospital, three physician executives — LHN Medical Staff President James Cameron, MD, Lutheran Hospital President-elect Matt Carr, MD, and Lutheran Hospital Medical Staff Vice President Marlene Bultemeyer, MD — left their positions and two physicians resigned from the board of Dupont Hospital, which is part of LHN.

In an earnings call last week, CHS chairman of the board and CEO Wayne T. Smith said Fort Wayne is a "strong market" in the company's portfolio and LHN is a "great healthcare system."

"We're working on strategic ways to grow market share and we continue to see good opportunity to expand access points in health services. The Lutheran team has a long history of delivering quality care for their patients in the community. We continue to focus on quality improvements, patient experience and physician relationships," said Mr. Smith.

CHS ended the second quarter of 2017 with a net loss of $137 million on revenues of $4.14 billion. That's compared to the same period of 2016 when CHS reported a net loss of $1.43 billion on revenues of $4.59 billion.

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